Strawberries in the Desert

Story telling from Australia

Rumi and the rat

Until a few weeks ago I’d never heard of Rumi.

Raise your words not your voice, it is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

Try something different. Surrender.

I kept noticing quotes by someone called Rumi, so I looked him up. The words of this 13th century Persian poet and mystic demanded my attention, in that inexplicable way the universe works sometimes. I don’t recall all of the quotes, just fragments suggesting peace and forgiveness.

Well, thank you Rumi.

For the past three years I’ve been cultivating honeysuckle to cover a slab of breeze block that sits between the sandstone wall and a timber fence above (yes, it’s time to talk about the gardening disaster).

All the vegetation had to be pulled off when we repaired a high fence above the sandstone…


It looked pretty bare. Thankfully honeysuckle grows quickly.


In less than three years it had reached the top of the fence and covered the ugly breeze blocks.


I was pretty chuffed with the results.

Ivy planted at the same time thrived at the base but it petered out in a sickly mess when it reached the top of the fence, and I could never figure out why.


Then, several weeks ago, the honeysuckle began to die back dramatically.

I called on the neighbour to see if she might know why. Was the same thing happening in her garden? Had her plants suffered at all? What was going on?

Her response was defiant. I used weedkiller on it, she said.

After a few terse words I went home in shock. She wasn’t remotely sorry about what she’d done and my hurt, disbelief and anger were quickly followed by a burning desire for revenge.

I could have insisted that we had the right to grow whatever we liked on that fence. I could have threatened legal action if she ever touched our plants again, I could have chopped her frangipani tree that overhangs our garden and at one point I even contemplated pushing a dead rat through her letterbox.

I could have taken revenge in any number of ways and none of them would have resurrected the honeysuckle.

Then I remembered Rumi.

Why did she hate what I was growing? What made her take such a drastic step?  Could I put myself in her shoes? I wrote a letter, seeking to understand rather than apportioning blame or threatening legal action. I waited several days, revised the letter, took out the bursts of heat, revised it again and eventually dropped it through her letter box.

Two weeks later there was a polite-ish letter back, explaining that rats used to hide in a tangle of overgrown ivy years before we moved in.

The fence used to look like this:


The new fence was a big improvement, but when I planted ivy in the far corner she was horrified. That’s why she’d been quietly poisoning it for months.


When the honeysuckle I so admired from below (a vigorous climber if ever there was one) began to push its tendrils through the fence to twine around her plants, she poisoned that too.

I was hurt and disappointed, but at least now I understood why she’d done it.

How to respond though?  I wrote another letter. I told her I’d get rid of the ivy and replace the honeysuckle with something less invasive, in return I asked if she would please let me know if she had any issues with our plants in the future, before taking such drastic action.

Once I’d pulled off the dead and dying honeysuckle I realised how invasive it must have been. Truly, the loss wasn’t as great as I’d feared. Yes, it looks bare now, but new plants will grow.


There are several (hopefully) better behaved climbing figs hidden in there. They’ll probably take another two to three years to reach the top of the breeze blocks, and they will be trimmed when they do.

DSC05529.jpgThe blue ginger has a chance to shine now and the gaps are gradually being filled.


An unwanted strelitzia hacked out of Kate’s garden miraculously survived the transplant, and the orange scented jessamine next to it had outgrown its pot, so it’s much happier in the ground.


Even the poisoned poinsettia fought back to life. It’s now sprouting in a new spot.


I’m not sure I’m ready to embrace Ali Ibn Abi Talib’s approach to forgiveness – Be like the flower that gives its fragrance to even the hand that crushes it – but I can relate to a quote from Robert Bly on Amy’s wonderful blog My Path with Stars Bestrewn.

We did not come to remain whole.
We came to lose our leaves.

So here’s to losing our leaves…

PS If she does it again I’ll be round there with the rats. There’s only so much forgiveness in me.


This entry was posted on March 9, 2017 by and tagged , , , , .

I'm a writer based in Australia with a passion for gardening, remote places and people with a story to tell.

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